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GPS Dependence

Posted by Matt Fitzgerald on Feb 25, 2009 9:37:44 AM


Do you know of any support groups or 12-step programs for GPS dependence? I am ready to admit that I have a problem.



I became GPS dependent back in 2001, when the first GPS-based run speed and distance device, the Timex Speed and Distance (know called the Timex Ironman Bodylink), hit the market. The advent of the run speed and distance deviceof which there are two versions today: those that are GPS-based and those that are accelerometer-basedwas an answer to a longstanding wish of mine. Ever since I was a child runner I had yearned for a device that would tell me how fast and how far I was running while I ran. Indeed, it's amazing to me how few runners ran out and purchased a Timex Speed and Distance the moment it was placed on store shelves, as I did, and how few runners use speed and distance devices even today. What serious runner would not want to know exactly how fast he's going and how far he's gone at any given moment throughout every run? Well, plenty, it seems. Even most elite runners don't use these devices. It's a real head-scratcher.



Like other addictions, my slide into dependence on GPS was gradual, but not by choice. I wanted to rely on it completely from the get-go, but the technology was so unreliable back thenthe device would lose its connection to satellites anytime a cloud passed over the sun, or I ran by a tree, or a bird flew overheadthat I had to get used to reactively switching back from real-time speed and distance data to reliance on raw time and external distance markers mid-run. Actually, Timex devices are still pretty unreliable in this way, but Garmins are not, and I made the switch to Garmins a few years ago. That's when my GPS dependence achieved full flower.



But there are still times when my desire for absolute reliance on GPS is thwarted, and at each such time I am reminded of the depth of my dependency. I once forgot to pack my Garmin when I traveled to a race. The battery has died on me mid-run more than once. And more than once the device itself has permanently died on me. When such things happen I feel almost as though my two legs have been bound together--utterly incapable of running.



Several weeks ago I switched from the Garmin Forerunner 305 to the top-of-the-line Garmin Forerunner 405. Its advantage is its compact design. It's disadvantage is its tendency to freeze up like a PC in the middle of my runs, something the 305 never did. This happens to me at least twice a week, and it's terribly annoying. It's like a tavern that randomly sometimes closes hours before it's supposed to and kicks its not-yet-drunken patrons out onto the street.



My 405 froze up most recently yesterday. It was an important workout: a progression run comprising eight miles easy followed by six miles fast (5:40-5:45/mile). Just as I was completing the easy eight-mile segment and beginning the progression, I hit the "lap" button and the device froze. So I had to run the entire six-mile fast segment by perceived exertion. This wasn't so hard; I'm experienced enough as a runner to know how to feel my way into the fastest pace I can sustain over a given distance. The problem was that I would have no way of knowing whether I had achieved my performance goal for the workout or compare it to past performances in similar works to determine whether my fitness was improving.



There were other runners on and around the track I was running on (I do all of my progressions on the track to facilitate speed) and I thought about calling out to one of them who did not seem busy at the moment and asking him or her to do me the favor of giving me a one-lap split so that at least I had some idea how fast I was running. But my pride got the better of me and I kept my mouth shut--or open for heavy breathing only, rather.



I guess that's a good sign. You know an addiction is truly serious when you just don't care what other people think anymore.



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